The OutsideTheLines
Feature of the Month

For December, 1998

The "Guess the Author" Challenge

"Birthday Boy"

By "Violet Femme"

DISCLAMER: Generation X and the X-Men belong to Marvel, not me. Iím not making any money off of this, so thereís no point in suing. This story takes place sometime after X-Men 338, but before O:ZT.

Jubilation Lee yawned groggily as her warm down-comforter was ripped violently off her bed. Warily, she opened one sleep-filled eye and then the other as she slowly grasped the situation unfolding in front of her... a situation that did not amuse her in the least.

Slowly sitting up in her bed, Jubilee glared at her torturer and said, "Hayseed, the only reason youíre still breathing is that Iím only half asleep."

Holding Jubileeís comforter incriminatingly in her arms and grinning maniacally, Paige Guthrie said, "Iíve only been trying to get you out of bed for the last twenty minutes. I figured it was the least I could do."

Grabbing a feather pillow from her bed and launching it at Paige, who easily dodged out of harmís way, Jubilee grimaced, "Donít do me any favors, okay?"

As she wiped the sleep out of her eyes and blinked at the sunlight streaming into the room, Jubilee asked, "What time is it anyway?"

Dropping the comforter to the floor and picking up a book from her ratís nest of a desk, Paige said, "Eight-thirty. I let you sleep in."

"How thoughtful."

"Now get up and get dressed. We promised to get Artie out of the house at nine."

Raising an eye brow and stifling another yawn, Jubilee asked, "Artie? Why do we need to get him out of the house?"

"Donít you remember? Todayís his birthday... weíve got to decorate the Biosphere? Big surprise party? Ring any bells?"

"Oh. Thatís today?"

"Uh-huh. And did I say Ďweí need to get Artie out of the house? Oops. I meant you."

"Me?! Thatís stupid. Iím the party queen remember? My name is even Jubilee for cryiní out loud. Why am I on tottler-patrol?"

"You lost a bet, remember."

Jubileeís mind wandered back to a late evening a few weeks before. During a raucous game of Truth or Dare, she actually bet that Angelo wouldnít raid Ms. Frostís closet and sing "Material Girl" while dressed in drag. She should have had more faith in Angelo. She lost... not as much as Angelo would have if their teacher had actually been on the grounds at the time, but she lost nonetheless. This chore was her payment.

"Yeah, yeah. I remember," groaned Jubilee as she got up from the bed and trudged through their room heading for the bathroom.

As she shuffled her feet along the hallway heading toward the girlís lavatory, she mumbled, "Why me?" and "Where the heck am I going to take him?" to no one in particular.

"This morniní ye will all be going on a nature walk," beamed Sean Cassidy much too cheerily for nine a.m. on a Saturday.

"Nature walk?" grumbled the assorted teens gathered around him in the foyer.

"Aye. Ye will all break up into teams of two."

Once more, the Academyís large foyer was filled with grumbles and protestations. Amid the din, Jonothan Starsmoreís telepathic voice sounded, I hate to burst yer bubble, but ainít it a Saturday?

Eye brows raised in alarm, Paige elbowed Jono as Sean glared at him and said through his teeth, "Aye. But itís such a beautiful day we decided to move this assignment up, lad."

Nodding in understanding, the group of teens mumbled in feigned enthusiasm "Yes, that does make sense," "My, isnít it a beautiful day," and "Gee, this assignment shouldnít be too bad."

As the members of Generation X started to pair up for their morningís adventure, Jubilee looked inquisitively at Sean who said, "Artie, why donít ye go with Jubilee? Leech, ye go with Monet. They can show you how to label the trees ye see by their scientific names."

Jubilee stared at her teacher with horror as she blurted out, "Scientific names?!"

"Aye, lass," smirked Mr. Cassidy. "Get a pencil and paper. The morninís not getting any longer."

Groaning to herself as her teammates filed out of the house behind her, only to make for the Biosphere as soon as Jubilee and Artie were out of sight, Jubilee said under her breath, "And thank God for that."

"Irish is really laying it on thick," complained Jubilee as she and Artie trudged through the small forest which skirted the Massachusetts Academyís grounds. She imagined todayís assignment would be a hundreds of times worse than a "nature walk" if he knew why she had really volunteered to get Artie out of the house while the others prepared for his surprise birthday party. As she walked deeper into the woods, she felt a gentle tug on her sleeve and turned around to see Artie pointing behind them. Squinting her eyes and craning her neck a bit, Jubilee noticed that they were not alone in the woods, that the most mysterious member of their team had decided to accompany them.

Walking slowly toward the dark, red form, Jubilee said gently, "Morning, Penny. Howís it hanging?"

She then stood with her hands idle at her sides which she hoped would let Penance know that she was welcomed to join them. After a while, Penance ambled closer to them and she scratched the ground with one long, red finger as she looked up at Jubilee in confusion, no doubt wondering why they were away from the commotion happening in the Biosphere.

After a few moments, Jubilee felt Artie once again tug on her sleeve as he pointed at a rather large tree nearby. Jubilee looked at the oak tree and scratched her head as she said, "Now that one is definitely a Bigus trunkae."

She looked once again at Penance who had a even more befuddled look on her face and shrugged as she admitted, though she knew full well that the girl did not understand her, "Donít believe it, huh? Well, I donít know what itís called either. Itís a tree. A big one. Itís got lots of leaves and looks like it might be good for climbing. Thatís good enough for me."

At the mention of tree climbing, Artieís face lit up and he psychically projected an image of his and Leechís tree house. Jubilee smiled and then asked, "So you like your tree house?"

Artie nodded his head enthusiastically. He then projected an image of he, Jubilee and Penance playing in the tree house. She then said, "Sorry Artie. Weíve got to finish this assignment or at least stay away from the school for a while."

Jubilee watched as Artie projected a comically irate and blustering Sean Cassidy with his face beet-red as it tended to become when he was genuinely angered. She giggled and then said, "Thatís about it."

Projecting an image of Leech standing alone, Artie stuffed his hands into the pockets of his corduroys and looked down at the ground dejectedly. Jubilee leaned down and put a hand on his shoulder as she said, "I know you miss Leech, but weíll have some fun. I promise."

Though Jubilee wasnít really looking forward to spending time Artie, she decided she should make the most of it. For some reason Artie and Leech made her feel uncomfortable and she could never think of anything to say or do with either of them. It was something she was planning on rectifying, something that made her feel guilty at times considering how kind and genuinely caring the boys were. For all her bluster and tough-girl facade, she thought that her time with Artie was a good day to change her attitude about the boys. So she surveyed the forest around her and a few feet ahead she saw a trail which lead to a small pond. Jubilee then declared, "Nature walk? Hows about a nature run!? Thereís a pond not far from here. Last one thereís a rotten egg!"

Jubilee then took off running, her small satchel beating lightly on her back. She turned briefly to look behind her and saw Artie jogging gleefully behind her and Penance slinking off into the brush of the forest. Jubilee had hoped the girl would have joined in the fun and thought that maybe, just maybe she was starting to forge a bond with her. As she jogged along, slowing so that Artie could catch up and eventually take the lead, she heard the bushes to the left of her snap and bend and she knew that Penance was taking part in their race.

She looked over her shoulder and saw some of the foliage uprooted and realized that Penance was burrowing steadily toward them. While Jubilee was distracted, Artie raced past her giggling sporadically through the deep breaths the run was forcing him to take. As he rushed past her, Jubilee felt the ground beneath her rise and fall as Penance passed beneath her feet. She stumbled slightly and then caught her footing again as she said to herself, "Gotta give her some credit for originality."

As she resumed her focus on the path under her feet, avoiding the roots unearthed in Penanceís wake, Jubilee sped toward the clearing where the pond was and brought herself closer to Artie. Once she caught up with him, she slowed her pace to match his. He looked over his shoulder at Jubilee and squealed with delight knowing that the race was almost over and he stood a good chance of winning. Jubilee called out to him, "Iím gonna catch you! Youíd better run faster!"

Artie quickened his pace and his short legs tore ahead on the trail, leaving Jubilee behind. As they approached the clearing, Artie slowed and began to celebrate his hard won victory as Penance dug out of the ground not ten feet in front of him. He stopped short as to avoid running into his sharp-skinned teammate just as Jubilee dashed out of the trees and plowed right into him. The two fell in a heap as Jubilee skidded to a halt.

Rubbing her back-side, Jubilee looked to Artie and asked, "You okay?"

Artie nodded as he pointed at Penance who was retreating back into the trees, obviously startled by the antics that took place in front of her. "Great," muttered Jubilee as she watched her teammateís retreating form. "Just great."

Jubilee quickly removed her small back-pack and retrieved a red apple from inside; she always tried to carry one for Penance just in case something like this happened. She was starting to feel a great amount of empathy for the girl and in recent weeks had been trying hard to reach out to her. Carrying a small supply of apples seemed a step in the right direction. She walked toward the tree line carrying the apple in front of her as a peace offering. "Where are you going?" said Jubilee as she held out the apple for the girl. "You havenít even gotten your prize for winning the race."

Jubilee smiled as she turned to look back at the apple. Tilting her head slightly, Penance looked at Jubilee who then said, "Itís okay, Penny. Itís for you."

Slowly Penance approached Jubilee and skewered the red fruit with a long finger. She sat there for a while and munched quietly on the apple before retreating into the woods. Jubilee grinned and ran a hand through her short hair as she turned back to join Artie at the pond as she said, "Well, thatís something at least

As she approached Artie, she watched him for a moment as he skipped stones deftly across the lake. She then sat down next to him and searched the grass for a nice, flat stone. Once she found one, she held it out to Artie and said, "Youíre a really whiz at that. I can only pull off one skip before they sink."

Artie smiled and took the offered rock from Jubileeís outstretched hand. Biting his bottom lip, he held the stone in his hand for a few moments testing its angle by flicking his wrist. Then he let it fly. It skipped four times across the water before vanishing into a quiet, concentric series of rings.

After watching the rock disappear under the lakeís surface, Artie sat down next to Jubilee and she asked him again, "You sure youíre okay? I didnít mean to crash into you like that."

Artie nodded and rubbed his pink, bald head as he giggled and projected a mental image of what he saw in the accident: Jubileeís expression of terror as she tried her best to avoid running into him. Jubilee began to laugh and said, "Yeah. I guess it was pretty funny."

They sat in silence for a while, birds chirping in the warm sun around them and butterflies flitting gently over the water. Jubilee then took her shoes and socks off and rolled up her baggy jeans to her knees as she eased her toes into the surprisingly chilly pond. She winced as the cold water penetrated her skin but she kept them in, knowing that soon her feet would grow accustomed to the temperature. Artie took off his own shoes, following suit, his own facial expressions and reaction nearly mimicking Jubileeís, though his were far more elaborate due to his large eyes.

After a while, Jubilee asked Artie, "So you used to hang with X-Factor, the original five?"

Artie nodded his head and Jubilee asked, "What was it like?"

Artie projected an image of him and Rusty Collins surrounded by Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, Iceman and Angel all dressed in their X-Terminator uniforms, smiling and happy. Jubilee then shook her head as she said, "I dunno. I think the five of them would have drove me nuts. For starters, Cyke is so stuffy. I hear he got better once him and Jean got back together. Thatís when I kneW him."

Artie then showed a scene with Scott Summers tucking him into bed and reading a bed-time story. Jubilee splashed her feet a little in the water and declared, "No way! That was Cyke? The fearless leader of the X-Men?"

Nodding his head, Artie splashed his feet like Jubileeís in the water and continued to show more images of his days with X-Factor: a furless Hank McCoy baking in the kitchen, a younger Bobby Drake playing a prank on a Caucasian-skinned Warren Worthington, Jean Grey playing Candy Land with Artie. Jubilee smiled as she said, "Wow. Looks like you guys had loads of fun."

He grinned and projected another image of Angel taking him flying. Jubilee looked at the image and commented dryly, "The Angel I knew was never like that. He acted like a pent-up rich snob when I knew him. The guy never had any real fun."

Artie then frowned and produced a startling image of Warren Worthington as Apocalypseís Angel of Death, his skin bathed in shadows and his metallic wings poised villainously, ready for attack. Startled, Jubileeís eyes grew wide briefly as the image flickered before her and then disappeared. She sat on the grass quietly for a few seconds before she ventured, "So did he scare you? You know... after his change?"

He shook his head sadly and stared down at his feet which were no longer splashing playfully in the pond. As she watched him hang his head and refrain himself from projecting any more images, Jubilee felt a deep stab of guilt. She mentally kicked herself for making Artie think back to that time in his life, and on his birthday of all days! She had heard of the incident in the Morlock tunnels, how Angel had fallen into the clutches of Vertigo, BlockBuster and Harpoon, how he lost his wings and almost lost his life to save Artieís. And she knew enough of the kind, sensitive mutant beside her to know that he probably blamed himself for everything that happened to Angel that day and the days afterward. And here she was forcing him to think about it, making him relive it all in his mind! Could she be a bigger jerk?

Trying her best to console Artie, she said quietly, "I know what you must be thinking, Artie. But heís a hero, an X-Man. Itís part of the territory."

He then turned to look at Jubilee, his large, pale eyes filled with tears and she knew the question that he couldnít give voice to, despite his talent of astral projection. "No," said Jubilee as she pulled her feet out of the water and put her arms around him. "It doesnít make it any easier."

As she held him, she thought of her own losses: her parents, Illyana, Blink, how she almost lost Wolverine. She knew how tough life among super heroes, or even among civilians could be. Still, she somehow convinced herself every morning that it was worth it, that the dream was worth all of the pain. In that moment as she held Artie in her arms by the pond, she realized she didnít make that decision alone every day. There were others who felt the same way she did, others who were in Massachusetts for the same reason she was... to make the world a better place. And somehow, that made it easier. Right now that would have to do.

After a while, Artie looked up at Jubilee and she smiled and said, "Letís go back to the school. I think thereís something there that will cheer us both up."

They walked back to the main grounds and as they approached the main hall, Jubilee steered Artie toward the Biosphere. When he saw where they were headed, he projected an image of he and Jubilee in the tree house, and she said as she smiled to herself, "Even better than that."

As they stood in front of one of the doors, Jubilee leaned down and hugged him as she said, Happy Birthday, Artie."

She then swung the door open as the large group of various Generation X, X-Force and X-Men team members assembled inside yelled, "Surprise!!"

As Artie entered the Biosphere, he looked over his shoulder at Jubilee, his face beaming with joy. Jubilee watched him run to Leech and other members of their team exuberantly. As she walked into the large structure, she noticed Angel with his large, feathered wings peeking out of the back of a well-tailored suit. She smiled as she saw Artie run to him and jump eagerly into his open arms. From where she stood, she heard him say, "Of course we can go flying today. Youíre the birthday boy, we can do whatever you want!"

Stuffing her hands into the pockets of her yellow coat, Jubilee prepared to walk over to her teammates as a voice behind her asked, "So, Jubilation. Are you enjoying your stay in Massachusetts?"

She turned around to face Psylocke, who she knew was there because of Angel, and said heerily, "Yep. Weíre not the X-men, but I like it here just fine. This is a good place to be. A really good place for me."

The End

Give up?

This story was written by Queen B!!!

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©David D. Amaya

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